Australia’s solidarity for Cambodia as capital goes into lockdown

By Melissa Coade

Friday April 16, 2021

Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang tweets a new year’s message. (Image: Twitter)

Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Pablo Kang, has shared a video message on Twitter to wish people a COVID-safe Khmer New Year as its major city goes into lockdown. 

“I know that Khmer New Year is the most significant time for Cambodians to come together with family, friends and community,” Mr Kang said on the eve of the nation’s first lockdown.

“With the current outbreak, […] celebrations are sure to be very different this year. Many of us won’t be able to celebrate as we normally usually would.”

Cambodian officials issued lockdown orders for its capital Phnom Penh and Tkhmao city on Thursday night to curb the spread of COVID-19. Entry to and from the areas are prohibited without government authorisation. 

The Health Ministry reported on Wednesday that Phnom Penh had 178 new cases of COVID, adding to the standing tally of 145 cases and two deaths in the capital. During the course of the whole pandemic, Cambodia has confirmed 4,874 cases and 36 deaths. 

More than 3.1 million doses of vaccines have been acquired by Cambodia through the World Health Organisations’ COVAX program and China. The country has a population of approximately 17 million people.

Ambassador Kang said that Australia had committed over $28 million to support the rollout of safe and effective vaccines in Cambodia, in addition to an annual commitment of $50 million to the Southeast Asian nation as part of a bilateral development cooperation program.

“As a friend and neighbour, Australia stands with Cambodia to stabilise and ultimately move towards post-pandemic recovery,” Mr Kang said. 

“I wish to recognise the efforts of Cambodia’s frontline health workers, hospitals, government, business and civil society representatives to combat the virus; and all Cambodian citizens who are making sacrifices and complying with health guidelines to help control the spread of [COVID-19].”

The 14-day lockdown is in place to control and prevent the spread of the disease, an unofficial translation of the lockdown orders provided by the an Australian embassy read.

Residents are not allowed to leave their homes for unnecessary travel, and those venturing outside for shopping or medical reasons must wear face masks and maintain physical-distancing. The public is also required to ‘adhere to sanitation and temperature screening’, the Cambodian government said. 

Those who are exempt from the rules, such as journalists, must have a work permit issued by local authorities. Businesses deemed as ‘non-essential’ by the government were also required to close. 

A curfew is also in place, with residents banned from going outside between 8pm until 5am the next day. Essential businesses have been ordered to ensure their operating hours adhere to the night time curfew with the exception of emergency services, pharmacies, petrol stations and hotels. 

Gatherings are banned during the 14-day period, with the exception of those living in the same household, approved funeral congregations and public health workers.

Reuters reported that police were manning checkpoints in Phnom Penh yesterday. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had also issued a voice message on his Facebook page to warn that the country was on the brink of “death valley” and that the community needed to stick together. 

“The purpose of the lockdown is to combat the spread of COVID-19 and this closure is not a way to make people die or suffer,” he said.

Hours before the lockdown, a leaked version of Hun Sen’s message on social media led to panic buying in Phnom Penh and the nearby Tkhmao area.

The Cambodian government said a committee had been appointed to oversee the lockdown, including 12 ministers and three ministry secretaries. 

The government also closed the historically significant Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap last week for a 14-day period. The ancient ruins are Cambodia’s largest tourist draw-card.

In a letter, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed the Ambassador’s well-wishes for the Khmer New Year. He acknowledged that traditional hallmarks of the Buddhist new year event, such as visiting temples and spending time with friends and family, were affected by the restrictions of COVID-19.

“While the celebrations will be different again this year, better days are upon us.

“As we engage from this global pandemic, Australia will work closely with our friends across Southeast Asia to create a stronger future — not just for our region, but for the world,” Mr Morrison said. 

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